Phones designed to make U safer

by Sam Darcy

With incoming first-year students, Code Blue emergency phone posts on campus often are used in prank calls rather than urgent situations.

“It happens a lot more at the beginning of the year with new freshman in the superblock area,” said Cole Di Laura, a sports studies senior and part-time University security monitor.

With increasing crime on campus, some people think the 20 phones aren’t enough, but the cost prevents adequately equipping the campus. The phones connect directly to the University Police Department.

The University installed 20 code blue emergency phones about 10 years ago on campus to combat rising crime rates. The phones are scattered across campus, but there are no phones near Comstock Hall, Middlebrook Hall or Northrop Mall.

Almost a decade later, the phones are still there and crime is still a problem.

Steve Johnson, deputy police chief for the University, said there has been an increase in robberies and assaults during the past two years.

Adam Engelman, Minnesota Student Association housing facilities and transit chairman, said there was a push in 2003 to build more phone posts, but because each cost $3,000 to $5,000, they weren’t worth the investment.

Engelman said safety is a major issue on campus, but the blue phones might not be the answer to all emergency calls in situations in which a person is being pursued and might be safer entering a more public area.

“Last semester there was a huge influx of crime on campus and in the surrounding areas,” he said. “I don’t know if adding towers will be a real initiative, but it makes sense to add a few.”

Jamie Tiedemann, director of the Aurora Center for Advocacy and Education and a member of the committee set up to build the phone posts, said they picked the locations based on where they were able to connect the police lines with the posts.

The committee decided to scatter the blue phones across the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses, Tiedemann said.

In addition to the Code Blue emergency phones, there are 200 yellow emergency phones on campus. The phones can call 911, but do not directly connect with University police.

However, other schools offer more options to contact emergency personnel on campus.

Stewart Adams, who works in the crime prevention unit for Arizona State University Police, said its main campus in Tempe, Ariz. has more than 320 call boxes directly connected to the police department.

Adams said about 50,000 students are on the Arizona main campus, compared to the University’s 51,000. Arizona State’s campus covers more than 700 acres, while the University of Minnesota covers more than 900 acres.

“Our philosophy on all call boxes is if you go out of sight of one call box, you should come in sight of another,” Adams said.

University police Sgt. Erik Stenemann said that despite the popularity of cell phones, the presence of the blue phones reassures students that help is only a push of a button away.

Stenemann also said the phone posts have been useful in medical emergencies and assisted in the apprehension of a robbery suspect.

“The more accessible we are to the public the better we can serve them,” he said. “If it saves just one life, then I think it is important.”